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The Muslim News, Issue 155, Friday 29 March 2002
Pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat leaves 1,000 dead

By Sajeda Haider in Kolkata

The dance of death that took place in the Gujarat, a state in western India at the end of February and early March, leaving about 1,000 people dead was anything but religious rioting, as described by most, but an anti-Muslim pogrom (organised massacre).

Rioting between two groups conveys images of mobs of equally strong opposition parties coming out on to the streets spontaneously and engaging in a pitched battle. What happened in the cities and villages of Gujarat did not resemble this in any way. Instead it was organised mobs of youths, mostly belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its affiliates, carefully picking out Muslim homes and businesses, murdering their inhabitants and looting and burning the premises. They did not even spare women and children. The aim was to pulverise the weaker opponent (Muslims) physically, economically and emotionally. The pogrom had the tacit consent of both the state BJP Government and the Central BJP-led Government which stood by and did nothing to stop the carnage.

In one week 670 Muslims were killed across the state according to official figures, the unofficial toll is well over a thousand as many of the cases in smaller towns and villages were not even reported, and millions of rupees worth of property damaged. At least 150 Muslim owned hotels and restaurants, 120 in Ahmedabad alone, were burnt down. Hundreds of shops, houses and even blocks of apartments owned by, or inhabited by Muslims were simply doused with petrol and set on fire, while the neighbouring Hindu premises went unscathed.

The frenzy of violence started on February 27, when a carriage of the Sabarmati Express carrying Hindu karsevaks (militant activists) was burnt at Godhra Station killing 58 people. The karsevaks were returning from the temple town of Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), where the VHP is carrying out a political agitation in favour of building a huge Ram temple on the site where the Babri Mosque stood till 1992 when it was torn down brick by brick by thousands of karsevaks. This round of the agitation was timed to coincide with the state elections in UP, hoping to help the BJP return to power. But the BJP lost in UP, coming in third and frustrating their cadre-based supporters.

The allegation was that a 2,000 strong mob of Muslims attacked the train carriage and burnt it with the 58 passengers still inside. There has been little or no evidence to prove that those who burnt the carriage were indeed Muslims. Instead eyewitnesses have said that some karsevaks had got into a fight with stall owners at Godhra station when they stole and snatched food and other items from the various stalls and refused to pay. The fight led to the burning of the carriage.

Instead of finding those really responsible for the heinous crime, the VHP used the incident as an excuse to murder innocent Muslims throughout the state. By the evening of 27th reprisal attacks against Muslims in Godhra had already begun with shops being looted and burnt. On the 27th the VHP announced a bandh (strike) for the following day, and the ruling BJP gave their support signalling the go ahead to the VHP storm troopers to take action.

The next few days saw some of the worst examples of barbaric violence Gujarat has witnessed since the partition of India. Mobs took to the streets murdering, looting, pillaging and burning anything that was remotely Muslim. Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat, was one of the worst cities to be affected. Muslim owned shops, restaurants, business, houses and even blocks of apartments were systematically sought out, looted and burnt. If humans got in their path then they too were treated like their belongings and burnt alive.

Desperate pleas of help to the police fell on deaf ears. According to reports in the Indian newspapers the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a hardcore member of the RSS/VHP who was instrumental in the BJP’s Ayodhya movement, had given the VHP cadre 24 hours to wreak havoc on the Muslim community, and told the police that they were not to answer any calls. The reports are given credence when the police simply stood by and watched as the Muslims pleaded for their lives and in some instances the police actively participated in the pogrom. The Police Commissioner P C Pande of Ahmedabad justified the police’s partisan inaction with “if something is happening in society you cannot expect the police to remain indifferent to it”.

But the violence continued even beyond the 24 hours, and for three days both the State Government and the Federal Government at the Centre watched as Muslims continued to be massacred before sending the army in. The Gujarat Government’s tacit consent of the violence went one step further when eyewitnesses said they could recognise ministers leading mobs as they attacked Muslims.

The violence consumed both the rich and the poor alike. Even influential Muslims were not spared. Ehsan Jafri, a former member of the Indian Parliament was dragged out of his house with other members of his family and burnt alive. “He made more than 200 frantic calls to police, bureaucrats and politicians whom he knew so well. He banked upon them to save the life of 90 to 100 persons gathered at our residence from the neighbourhood thinking they would be safe with us. But no one helped,” recalls his widow Zakia Nasim Jafri, who is now staying with her relatives.

Ehsan Jafri was the epitome of secularism. He had joined the Congress Party when he was in his teens and was first elected to Parliament in 1977. He had built the Gulmarg Housing Society where Hindus and Muslims lived together as a symbol to his enduring faith in Indian secularism. He was burnt alive in the very colony he so lovingly created.

Even the most influential Muslims like judges, both sitting and retired, and senior police officers, had to run for cover from the marauders. Justice M H Kadri, a sitting judge of the Gujarat High Court had to flee his home when his calls for more armed guards to both the Director General of Police (the top police officer in the state) and the Additional Chief Secretary (home) were ignored. Another respected judge of the city, Justice Akbar N Divecha was also rendered homeless when his home in Kazmi apartments in the heart of the city was attacked and burnt down. Justice Divecha managed to escape just in the nick of time.

A I Saiyed, Special Inspector General of Police and one of the senior most officers in the state was saved by the presence of mind of his driver. He was doing his duty and driving around the city in full uniform, thinking that was protection enough when his car was stopped by a mob. The hoodlums spotted his nametag and turned on him, but his driver and bodyguard quickly bundled him back into his vehicle and sped away. If a police officer in uniform was not safe during the carnage then what hope did ordinary Muslims have?

The modus operandi of the Gujarat pogrom follows similar massacres that took place in Bombay in 1992, just after the demolition of the Babri Mosque. Then too, gangs of Shiv Sena and VHP cadre had gone from one area to another burning down Muslim homes and businesses. In one incident, Indian cricketer Sunil Gavaskar had to come out on to the street to stop mobs from attacking Muslim homes in his block of apartments. 3,000 people were killed during the 1992 riots.

That the massacres were premeditated was admitted to by Kaushik Mehta, a joint General Secretary of the VHP in Gujarat when talking to the Indian newspaper The Telegraph.

“It was decided there should be a model for reprisals. It was important to teach a lesson that could be emulated…,” said Mehta. When asked if violence would not beget violence, he replied: “We hope not. We hope that after what has happened, a lesson will have been learnt.”, Updated on 2002-03-29 03:46:35
Mocking America's Tragedy

Some nations have taken upon themselves to cash in on the tragedy of September 11 terrorist attacks on America's soil. They are concocting parallels with America's tragedy when none really exist.

The recent passage of so-called 'anti-terrorism' law (POTO) by Indian parliament is an ultimate gross misrepresentation, mischievous, manipulation of facts and merely an image building exercise by India. Perhaps Indians have self-illusionary ideas about their own history and freedom struggle in the part of Kashmir under Indian military occupation.

First of all the myth of so-called 'largest democracy' immediately shatters with BJP, an extremist Hindu fundamentalist party in power in India with wide spread support of Indian masses. Any remaining faint doubts have been erased with the appointment of Lal Advani as Home minister. Indian Minister Advani is the same person who led the Hindu fundamentalist hate group to destroy minority place of worship. America, a real democracy, has no hate group in power, nor any officials with history of hate crimes attacks.

The United States, unlike India is not a regional bully, both its neighbor in the North and South are at peace and are under no threat of invasion, or low intensity warfare, nor has American brought its army at its neighbor's borders to blackmail into submission. There are no burning alive of minorities under the supervision of police in America, as witnessed in Gujrat and other states.

Further, America is not occupying any land. America has not subjugated 10 million minorities in a virtual concentration camp. Nor America's soldiers are committing atrocities, genocide, and rapes of young Muslim women or torturing youth to death. All of which India army is busy and actively pursuing in Indian occupied Kashmir.

The state terrorism of India in Kashmir is documented by human rights organizations world wide, including annual reports of Amnesty International.

Yet, India has the audacity to mock America's tragedy by passing a so-called anti-terror legislation and comparing itself to America's legitimate homeland security concerns. As if India is a victim of any terror. Indian forces are already going far beyond any legislation; rather its paramilitary observes no laws or human rights in its routine genocide of Kashmiris.

It is indeed shameful of such nations, like India, which are wrongly claiming to be a victim when clearly they are the ones engaged in state sponsored terrorism.


The Hindu, Opinion, Sunday, March 31, 2002

Barbarism at its worst

Around mid-day earlier this week, a couple on a scooter was stopped by a mob of about 50 people armed with knives and other weapons on Vasna main road in Ahmedabad. They were asked to disclose their identity. Sensing trouble, the man gave a Hindu name. But the mob was not amused. He was made to strip to confirm his identity and then stabbed in the chest and abdomen.

Munnabhai, 28, who migrated from Uttar Pradesh about a decade back, is fighting for his life in hospital. His wife, Mumtaz Bano, 30, who was stripped and stabbed repeatedly on her private parts, died instantly.

It was not a chance encounter. The mob was aware of the couple's identity and wanted to punish them for inter-community marriage. Geetaben was a Hindu girl, a resident of Guptanagar in Vasna locality, before she became Mumtaz Bano.

In Baroda, a teacher running coaching classes was sought out by a group of hooligans and stabbed to death in broad daylight for the same crime.

He too had married a Hindu girl some 11 years ago.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has always been touchy about Hindu girls marrying Muslim boys, viewing it as a method of conversion, though it welcomed Hindu boys marrying Muslim girls.

Eyewitnesses say that on the day of the "Gujarat bandh" a woman was raped repeatedly in front of a frenzied mob of about 5,000 people before being thrown into a fire in Gulmarg society in Ahmedabad's Meghaninagar locality.

The Gujarat riots are replete with stories of ghastly attacks on the minorities, humiliation of women and killing of children.

There are no accounts of how many women were raped and tortured before being killed but such complaints have come both from urban and rural areas. — M.D.


The Hindu, Opinion, Sunday, March 31, 2002

Crime and no punishment

Those who expect justice will clearly have to look beond Gujarat's BJP Government, writes Anjali Mody.

IT IS over a month since the carnage in Gujarat began, and still the violence continues. Yet, the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, has returned to Gandhinagar, comfortable in the knowledge that a deeply partisan Government which abrogates its responsibility to the people it is supposed to govern, can survive with the blessings of the Centre. Nothing less would have permitted Mr. Modi to brazen it out in the capital last week. For, although the Prime Minister slapped him on the wrist for keeping things on the boil, Mr. Modi does not expect to pay with his job for his complete failure to govern.

With this "approval" in his pocket, and the belief that the majority of Gujarat's Hindus support him, Mr. Modi, and the State's BJP Government are unlikely to feel compelled to act with any urgency to try and restore a semblance of `normality' to the State. In fact, despite the public claim that he had the violence under control in "72 hours", Mr. Modi is said to have told senior officials in New Delhi that he needed one more month to call a halt to the violence. The sense of insecurity that pervades the State will take a great deal to undo. There is, however, nothing in Mr. Modi's demeanour to suggest that he is concerned with returning a sense of security to the people battered by the violence. He has shown himself to be entirely unwilling to change even the language of justification ("har kriya ki pratikriya hoti hai, for every action there is a reaction") that underlies his, and his Government's, every utterance on the violence and death of the last one month.

Mr. Modi, his Cabinet colleagues and their minions in the Secretariat and the police force refuse to talk about the systematic killing of Muslims in Gujarat except as "violence/riots which followed Godhra". Most FIRs filed by the police in the last few weeks and Government orders issued in relation to the violence invariably begin with a preamble about the violence which "followed the burning of the Sabarmati Express in which 58 people including women and children were killed". Apart from endlessly repeating what it calls the "causal" connection between Godhra and the annihilation of Muslims, the Government has also chosen to emphasise the State's "communal history" by way of explaining itself. The Gujarat Government refuses to acknowledge what even civil servants and police officers in the State, to say nothing of victims, social activists, and the press, have found: that this was no ordinary `riot', but a programmed attack on the people of one faith. Apart from this, the slowness of its response in providing any assistance to the people in the makeshift relief camps has underlined the Government's wilful abandonment of its constitutional duty to protect the rights of its people. It has failed to defend their right to life — the most basic of rights — and for the survivors it has been reluctant to provide them the wherewithal to exercise their rights as citizens of this country.

The Government has so far shown little willingness to help people return to homes that may still be intact, or return to work in a guaranteed safe environment. Those who have done so voluntarily have been forced back to the camps by threats and attacks. The Government has also produced no reasonable plan or time frame for rehabilitating those whose homes and sources of livelihood have been destroyed.

Those who expect justice — for the deaths, the damage, the destruction of whole communities — will clearly have to look beyond the State's BJP Government. For, its "reaction" theory precludes admitting the role of organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal (enough of whose members have proudly proclaimed their part in the violence).

The Government claims that the police have made hundreds of arrests of people involved in substantive criminal acts. But, so far, it has failed to give an account of these arrests, the charges, if any, against those still in custody and of the investigations which it says are under way. The police in Ahmedabad have also voluntarily filed many `omnibus' FIRs, against groups of people, naming no names. These FIRs pre-empt the chance of a victim seeking to file an FIR naming either police officers or individuals identified in the mob. An omnibus or group FIR is not worth the paper it is written on, since it is nearly impossible to successfully prosecute a case in which the perpetrator(s) is not identified.

The numbers of those "rescued" is an even greater obfuscation mocking the trauma of the victims. The Government claims, to cite just one example, that the police "rescued" a few thousand people from Naroda Patia in Ahmedabad. Survivors say the police fired at them to force them into the path of the mob. Nearly 100 people, including children, died gruesome deaths, women and girls were raped, a whole neighbourhood was burnt down. Those who survived were transported to relief camps. This is what the Government describes as "rescue".

The Constitution guarantees all Indian citizens the right to protection of life and personal liberty (Article 21), the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion (Article 15) and the equality of all persons before the law (Article 14).

But, Mr. Modi, and the BJP Government he leads, are determinedly showing the world that these constitutional provisions do not apply to Indians who are Muslim, if they do not "enjoy the goodwill" of the Hindutvawadis.


The Hindu, Opinion, Sunday, March 31, 2002
Where time is not a healer

Contrary to expectations that the numbers in the relief camps would come down as the violence ebbed, they have been increasing.

SEVERAL DAYS after the curfew was lifted from the riot-affected areas of Ahmedabad, a few Muslims went to see the condition of their shops outside Shahpur Darwaja. They are no VVIPs and in the pre-riot days no one would have noticed their presence. But the times have changed. The message went round fast and soon a huge mob collected.

Most of those in the mob were known to the Muslims, their neighbours till recently, but it was not difficult to read the menacing look in the eyes of some of them. The Muslims realised what was coming and fled for their lives. Fortunately, a repetition of the Makarpura incident in Baroda where two persons were lynched when they went with police protection to collect their belongings from their deserted houses, was averted.

This fear of facing a threat from known persons has seen people continue to make a beeline for the relief camps. Despite being crammed into small, overcrowded rooms and tents in highly unhygienic surroundings, the inmates know they are safer than in the places they lived till February 27.

The inmates of the relief camps are not just those rendered homeless in the riots; many from the fringe areas have also fled to the safety of these camps, no longer able to trust their Hindu neighbours or the police. A few camps also shelter Hindus precisely for the same reason though not many of them have been rendered homeless.

In most of the camps, the organisers' estimates went haywire because contrary to the expectation that the numbers would come down as the violence ebbed they have been increasing. Those who had been in hiding during the curfew made their way to the relief camps at the first opportunity.

According to the Revenue Minister, Haren Pandya, about 101 relief camps in various parts of the States house about 98,000 inmates, a number which has swelled from about 30,000 in the first few days after the rioting. But the organisers of many of the camps claimed that the Government estimate was far less than the reality and that the actual number was way above one lakh.

While the initial problems of shortage of food or medical aid have been taken care of, largely due to the efforts of voluntary organisations, hygiene still remains the biggest problem.

In Ahmedabad and in most other cities, local authorities have set up toilets or provided mobile toilet vans, but the efforts still fall far short of the requirements considering that there is one toilet for an average of 400 people. The inmates still do not want to leave the camps and return home, at least not immediately.

For many, what was once their home has been razed to the ground while others do not feel the conditions are conducive enough to return. Other than providing relief to the inmates, most of whom are yet to receive the first instalment of cash doles, the State Government is yet to address the main problem of rehabilitating them.

Compounding the situation is the fact that many of them want to be rehabilitated in "safer areas", in minority clusters where they can feel safe. There is not enough land available to rehabilitate them all in such areas but till the problem is resolved, the camps will continue despite the inhuman conditions. — M.D.


The Hindu, Opinion, Sunday, March 31, 2002
Callousness... after the carnage

The least the people can expect from a Government is an honest effort to restore peace. But, says Manas Dasgupta, even routine measures such as formation of peace committees, have not been initiated even a month after the carnage in Gujarat began.

THEIR HOTELS, factories, garages and showrooms lie shattered. The once well-off are virtually penniless. It is more than a month since the riots broke out, but Gujarat's Muslims are still awaiting succour. Baba Harsoliya, who owned a huge showroom in Himmatnagar, has lost all his money and is not sure when he will get insurance clearance to start his business again, if at all.

Muslims in transferable jobs have already started looking for postings elsewhere.

The traders who can afford it are planning to shift their business away from the atmosphere of distrust and hate. Those employed in Hindu-dominated areas are still not reporting for duty, and daily wage earners have lost their income.

Why, even police officers and members of the judiciary belonging to the minority community are feeling threatened, and in some cases have also been attacked.

What has happened and is happening in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage give a clear indication that if the torching of the Sabarmati Express was "pre-planned" as claimed by the BJP leaders, the post-Godhra violence was no less "organised and well executed".

The way the minority properties were systematically targeted, the way the police were kept out of the scene, and the way the Government deliberately delayed calling out the Army, all point to one conclusion: the Government wanted to whip up communal sentiment to create a Hindu vote bank.

It is precisely for political gains that the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, showed no inclination to stop the violence. The least the people can expect from a Government in such a volatile situation is an honest effort to restore peace at the earliest but even the routine methods of formation of peace committees have not been initiated in four weeks.

As some senior bureaucrats, who said they felt "ashamed" to be part of the "partisan" State administration, pointed out, the speed and alacrity with which the minority establishments were singled out and attacked could not have been possible without meticulous preparation.

It was possible that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had been making the preparations keeping in mind March 15 when trouble was apprehended during the "Shila Pujan" in Ayodhya, but the Godhra carnage a fortnight earlier came in handy to implement its "Muslim Hatao" programme.

It sounds plausible because the bloody "Gujarat Bandh" began with the destruction of the business establishments of the minorities before turning to the desecration of mosques and "blood for blood". The idea was to deal a crippling blow to the minority economy to force them to flee Gujarat. It was further strengthened through the subsequent surreptitious campaign calling upon the Hindus to launch an "economic boycott" of the minorities and severe all their business relations with the Muslims.

It could not have escaped even the most inexperienced of administrations that preventive measures were called for on the eve of a bandh call given to protest against the Godhra carnage.

As a senior retired police officer commented, "the sky is the limit for taking preventive measures". The Government could have rounded up known anti-social elements, could have combed the sensitive areas and seized arms and ammunitions, could have imposed curfew in the sensitive areas in anticipation, could have alerted the Army in advance to be ready to move in at the first sign of trouble, or at the least could have appealed to the people to maintain peace. But nothing of the kind was done by the administration in the 24 hours it had at its disposal between Godhra and the bandh.

What was also missing in the present State police cadre was a few upright officers with the guts to exert the powers given to them under the law. As a retired police officer commented, the excuse of being outnumbered by the hooligans was untenable; they are trained to handle such a situation since at no given time is the number of policemen larger than an organised mob. A few trained policemen can be stronger than thousands of hooligans. But even if senior officers had declined to obey unlawful orders, Mr. Modi could still have had his way. And the blame for it lies in the system introduced nearly three decades ago by the then Congress Government and followed by all subsequent Ministries for their own convenience.

It has become an established practice in the State to appoint field police staff up to the rank of sub-inspector based on the choice of the ruling party MLA of the area. In the BJP administration, the system was taken a step further, packing the police stations in the opposition party constituencies with those convenient for the Sangh Parivar.

The system has resulted in an erosion of authority of the top police brass as the local staff remain more loyal to their political bosses than to senior officers.

In fact, senior officers reportedly at times ask the help of the field staff to exert pressure on the Government for plum postings.

And Mr. Modi by his subsequent actions also demonstrated that he was not bothered about public or media criticism in acting in a partisan manner.

He has unabashedly "punished" all those officials who "dared" to take on the Sangh Parivar outfits. There are not many takers for his claim that the changes were "routine administrative decisions". It was perhaps for the first time in the history of the State that a large-scale reshuffle of senior level police officials was undertaken in the middle of a serious law and order situation and the pattern of the transfers indicated that the entire exercise was carried out with a one-point agenda, to remove all those coming in the way of the Parivar hooligans enjoying a free hand.

The officers who ensured that their areas remain trouble-free or dared to book the local VHP or Bajrang Dal activists for creating disturbances have been packed off to insignificant posts.

The district superintendents of police of Kutch, Banaskantha, Mehsana and several other districts have been made to suffer for their upright stand.

An attempt has also been made to dilute the investigations against BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders named in the police FIRs in connection with heinous crimes.

A senior police official, who was investigating the involvement of the BJP legislator and the party's Ahmedabad unit president, Maya Kodnani, and the State VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel, in the gruesome Naroda-Patia incident in which more than 90 people were burnt alive, has been shifted to civil defence.

The district police top brass who suspended a police officer for inaction during riots in Banaskantha have been sent to the State control room.

The official inquiring into the Sardarpura incident in Mehsana district in which at least 22 people were burnt alive finds himself sidelined in excise and prohibition.

Almost every one of the 27 transfers was either to "punish" the unwanted or to "reward" the "good boys"; in many cases, the officers have been changed within two months of their last transfers. The transfers have led to a mini-revolt in the police cadre and the Director-General of Police dashed off an angry letter to the Home Secretary but by all accounts the protests may have come a bit too late to salvage the prestige of the force.

Apart from the discriminatory decisions, some of which the Government was forced to rescind later at the instance of the Centre, the personal involvement of a few Ministers or the BJP MLAs in the disturbances show the true colour of the ruling party. One of the Ministers was said to have participated in demolishing a dargah and placing an idol there to "convert" it into a temple. Another had reportedly accepted the responsibility of keeping the police at bay to let the hooligans carry out their job.

A number of BJP and VHP leaders were allegedly involved in instigating the mobs but had not been named in the FIRs by "loyal" police personnel.

It is the duty of the Government to arrest all the guilty, but the alertness with which it arrested the perpetrators of the train carnage was sadly missing in dealing with the post-Godhra incidents.

Though the police have arrested over 9,000 people in connection with the post-Godhra violence, none of the senior leaders of the BJP, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal named in the police FIRs, has yet been called even for questioning.

Despite being involved in heinous crimes, the police have used such soft clauses against the accused that more than 6,500 could secure bail already and the applications of the remaining are being processed.

The indications are that the Godhra carnage did work in favour of the BJP to consolidate the communal vote bank.

Mr. Modi is confident that he cannot be dismissed and is believed to have conveyed to the central leadership that any punitive action against his "Hindu Government" could result in more disturbances.

Alternatively, a change of leadership at this stage would also not be in the interest of the party.

Mr. Modi and the BJP could gain from the communal holocaust, but Gujarat has lost.


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